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Investing in the Future of Public Behavioral Health in Georgia

Posted Feb. 9, 2018
Reported by: Anna Scheyett,

L-R: Steve Stewart, director of talent management, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Evelyn Harris, LCSW, director of hospital system quality management, DBHDD, and Katie Crawford, program coordinator, UGA School of Social Work..

Some of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens are getting a stronger safety net, thanks to a new collaboration between the University of Georgia School of Social Work and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), along with the Georgia Association of Community Service Boards.

The public behavioral health system in Georgia, made up of 25 community service boards (CSBs) and five state hospitals, supports treatment of mental illness or disorders in adults and youth, but its workforce is stretched thin. A program called Investing in the Future of Public Behavioral Health, which launched in January, aims to increase the number of skilled social work practitioners who hold master’s degrees and have the passion to work in public behavioral health in Georgia.

Students who have begun their chosen area of concentration and are interning in either a DBHDD facility or CSB may apply for the program. If selected, they will receive a $10,000 stipend from DBHDD while in the program, and in return agree to work at either a Georgia state hospital or CSB for at least one year after graduating.

“It’s very important to us that the individuals we serve throughout the state get the best and the brightest that there is, and we’re very excited to do this,” said Steve Stewart, director of talent management for DBHDD. “It’s a win/win—students get training and financial support and DBHDD gets skilled and committed professionals.”

“It is an honor to represent Georgia’s public safety net, and I am excited to partner with both DBHDD and UGA in developing this program. Citizens of Georgia deserve care from passionate and skilled social workers. With the national mental health professional shortage, we certainly feel the impact here in Georgia. The GACSB is so appreciative of this opportunity,” stated Robyn Garrett, executive director of the Georgia Association of Community Service Boards.

In this inaugural year of the program, four graduate students were selected through a rigorous interview process with a panel of representatives from the School of Social Work, DBHDD, and CSBs. The members of the first cohort are Chante Cabral, Kaylen Hilton, Melanie Norton, and Brier Wagoner-McCann. The students were unanimous in their enthusiasm for the program.

“Public behavioral health services are about social justice—making sure that anyone who needs services has access to them,” said Wagoner-McCann. “I’m honored to work in this system and I am incredibly excited to be a part of this initiative!”

Katie Crawford, Ph.D., oversees student selection within the School of Social Work and provides a specialized seminar in public behavioral health for the students. She also coordinates continuing education lunch-and-learns for the agencies where students have internships, as a way to give back to these agencies.

“This is just the start of what we hope is a long and successful collaboration” Crawford said. “Next year, we plan to expand to ten students, with internships at multiple CSBs and/or state facilities. Over time, we’re confident that this will strengthen the behavioral health workforce across Georgia.”

For more information about the Investing in the Future of Public Behavioral Health initiative, please contact Katie Crawford at